At the NFL combine, prospects are given numbers alphabetically. At this year’s combine Michael Sam will wear number 42, sharing the same number as Jackie Robinson, a player who broke down barriers in baseball.
Earlier this week Michael Sam sent barriers crashing to the ground.
Michael Sam made headlines earlier this week when he came out and admitted that he was gay. Sam told the New York Times, “I just want to make sure I could tell my story the way I want to tell it. I just want to own my truth.” Sam began to hear rumors start circulating about him, and simply wanted to put and end to them before they got out of hand. The young man out of Missouri is regarded as a top prospect for May’s draft and he made a huge step for himself and the NFL.
According to the Times, Sam first told teammates L’Damian Washington and Marvin Foster about his sexual orientation about a year ago, and announced it to the rest of the team during a team building exercise later. During the exercise, players were supposed to talk about where they were from, why they chose Missouri, and something that not many people know about them. When it was Sam’s turn to speak he proudly told his teammates what they had already known. “I’m gay,” Sam said, “I looked into their eyes and they were just shaking their heads- like, finally he came out.”
The NFL has never had an openly gay player and it’s something that people have incredibly split opinions on. The popular belief is that a gay NFL player could be a major distraction in the locker room and could actually destroy a team’s chemistry. However, despite knowing all of the factors that could possibly work against him at the next level, Michael Sam decided that it was time and that the NFL was ready. However, Sam also understands the controversy that he has created. “I’m not naive. I know this is a big deal,” said Sam. Despite the thought of receiving backlash for his actions, Sam’s only focus right now is performing well at the NFL Combine and making it to the NFL.
Regardless of what his sexual orientation is, Michael Sam can flat out play football. The 24 year old defensive end finished the season as a first team all-American and was named the player of the year for the South Eastern Conference. Many scouts have Sam going in the early rounds, but some people believe that Sam’s recent decision to come out might actually hurt his draft stock. Former all-pro wide receiver, Chad Ochocinco tweeted, “That took some courage but man his draft stock is going to plummet even though it should be based on production and how he can contribute‼️” (@ochocinco.) Ochocinco is one of many players that seem to be split on whether or not they would be comfortable having a gay teammate. Whether or not Ochocinco and other people that share his belief are right still remains to be seen, but it definitely is something that is a possibility.
While NFL.com’s Ian Rapoport said that he believes that Sam’s decision will not work directly against him due to the influx of young general managers who are seemingly more tolerant, some players and general managers are still very much ambivalent or plain negative to the thought of a gay NFL player. New Orleans Saints linebacker Jonathan Vilma is a player that seems to believe that the NFL will never be ready for a gay NFL player. Vilma said to the media, “Imagine if he’s the guy next to me and, you know, I get dressed, naked, taking a shower, the whole nine, and it just so happens he looks at me. How am I supposed to respond?” Vilma, however, does not speak for every single NFL player, but it certainly says something about the controversy that Sam has created.
An unnamed NFL player personnel executive chimed in on what Vilma had to say. The executive told reporters, “I don’t think football is ready for [an openly gay player] just yet.” He would go on to say, “”In the coming decade or two, it’s going to be acceptable, but at this point in time it’s still a man’s-man game. To call somebody a [gay slur] is still so commonplace. It’d chemically imbalance an NFL locker room and meeting room.”
In regards to Sam’s draft stock, a veteran NFL scout gave his thoughts. “I just know with this going on this is going to drop him down,” said the veteran NFL scout. “There’s no question about it. It’s human nature. Do you want to be the team to quote-unquote ‘break that barrier?'” Ultimately, the team that drafts Sam will have to be willing to take a very, very big risk. Sam is unquestionably a remarkable football player, but he is also a person that can quickly dissolve the locker room’s chemistry. Although there are many question marks surrounding Michael Sam and his draft stock, his play on the football field is not altered by his sexual orientation.
Despite being in different sports and playing in different times, Jackie Robinson and Michael Sam have a lot in common. Both are brave and both are great players.
But more importantly, both players are happy and proud with who they are.